As one of the civilian vice-presidents of the UK National Defence Association (UKNDA), whose launch at the Churchill Museum I attended today, I would like to warmly congratulate Winston Churchill, the grandson of our wartime premier, for setting up this vitally important organisation. The recruitment of three former top brass – Lords Boyce, Craig and Guthrie – as patrons is a sign of the times. Such people do not normally lend their names to political campaigns in this way.
The pity is that it should have become necessary. Yet it has come not a moment too soon.
Its stated purpose is: ‘To campaign for SUFFICIENT, APPROPRIATE and FULLY FUNDED ARMED FORCES that the Nation needs to defend effectively our Country, its people, their security and vital interests at home and worldwide.’
The UKNDA’s goal for defence spending, now at around 2 per cent of GDP, is a fifty per cent increase, to 3 per cent.
As Liam Fox has pointed out, the last time we spent so little on defence was in the 1930s, before the warnings of Mr Churchill’s grandfather were at last heeded – not before time.
In those days the threat was from Germany. Now much of it is located in the Middle East, where many of our servicemen have been wounded, sometimes due to inadequate equipment being provided, only to find themselves needing charity hand-outs to supplement the cash-starved military rehabilitation facilities when they come home.
And, disgracefully, as Churchill points out, compensation for battlefield injuries is ‘a fraction’ of that for civilians. No wonder UKNDA patron former Admiral Lord Boyce warns that mounting service resentment could damage recruitment and retention.
Yet we cannot entirely blame the Government for the present state of things. As Mr Churchill says ‘Successive governments have let people down.’
Let us hope the defence review we have promised to effect when we come to power will ensure that we do not let our servicemen and women down yet again.